Buy it here: The Hate U Give
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Every now and again, I read a book that reminds me why, exactly, I’m so obsessed with YA texts. Honestly though, until I got my hands on The Hate U Give (thanks, husband, for the perfect Christmas gift), it had been awhile. I was starting to view YA as a category for addressing werewolves and vampires and cliques and meaningless high school drama, with maybe one or two exceptions thrown in there. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last YA book I read that really shook me to my core, that made me pause after every chapter to really digest, that left me still contemplating its scenes days later. A book that takes something complicated and “adult” and reformats it for young adults without losing its depth. This is one of those books. But to even call it that, to reduce it to a category with other texts, makes me feel like I’m not really doing it justice. Because to be frank, I’ve never read a book like this. The Hate U Give takes a topic that is so relevant, layered, and overwhelming and makes it digestible for a younger audience with the most vivid characters I’ve read in so long. They honestly could have come alive from the pages, and I wouldn’t have been surprised.
The premise: Inspired by police shootings of black citizens in recent years, the text follows Starr Carter, who witnesses a police shooting in which a cop takes the life of her friend. The media claims that the cop saw a gun, felt threatened. Others say that this is only the most recent example of police brutality and racially charged murder at the hands of cops. Only Starr can testify to her friend’s innocence. This is all complicated by Starr’s background—her uncle, who functioned as a father figure in her early years, is a cop; the father of her half-brother is a drug lord; she attends a predominantly white, wealthy school in the suburbs but lives in a neighborhood known for gang violence and poverty (despite the beautiful, complex features, including its residents, which Thomas brings to life with her words). Speaking up publicly about what happened means risking her own life and those of her family and friends.
Even with so much plot, so much of the text takes up Starr’s intricate inner monologue, where she reflects on the facets of her identity and grapples with how best to move forward from the shooting. I think that despite all of the text’s other positive aspects, this is what really sealed the deal for me. Reading everything from Starr’s perspective, I got to know her. She seemed as multilayered and deep as any real person. She exemplifies what a YA protagonist should be. Even with Thomas’s effort to bring each and every character to life, Starr’s first-person account, the opportunity to really know her, transformed the novel into something unique.
I don’t care if you aren’t a fan of YA fiction. I don’t care if you’re not interested in reading about relevant social issues like BLM, police shootings, race relations, and the like (and if the latter is the case, perhaps do some self-reflection and think about why, exactly, you don’t want to participate in these discussions and learn more about these issues). Read. This. Book. And Angie Thomas, thank you. I can’t wait to see what you write next, but until then, I plan to regularly return to this text and revel in the conversations it invites for readers of all ages.